Tom Petty’s Death: Five Years Later

Tom Petty once proclaimed that if “you never slow down, you never get old.” He did very little of that in the last years of his life.

In fact, he died only one week after the Heartbreakers completed an extensive 40th anniversary tour on Sept. 25, 2017 at Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Petty was found in his home in October. 2, unconscious and in cardiac arrest. Premature reports of his death followed before Petty finally succumbed a few hours later at a Santa Monica hospital, a few weeks shy of his 67th birthday.

A Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s report confirmed that Petty died after suffering “multi-system organ failure due to resuscitated cardiopulmonary arrest due to mixed drug toxicity.” A combination of sedatives, antidepressants, oxycodone and fentanyl, among other things, had led to an “accidental overdose” not unlike Prince‘s died in 2016.

Petty’s widow, Dana, and his daughters confirmed in a statement at the time that he had been prescribed these medications for various health problems, including a broken hip. According to Dana, Petty insisted on pushing through the 40th anniversary tour despite his ailments. “He had it in his mind that it was his last tour, and he owed it to his longtime crew, decades some of them, and his fans,” she said. Billboard in 2018.

But Petty did not mention retiring in an interview conducted just before his death. He simply said that future trips would likely be less grueling. “I don’t know if we can finish it. It’s bigger than us,” Petty said Rolling stones. “I mean, it’s really something that kind of drives us. And yeah, we’re in the back 60s now. We’re going to, for sure cut down to do this kind of tour, but to stop playing is unthinkable for me.”

In other words, Petty had no plans to slow down anytime soon.

Watch Tom Petty perform ‘American Girl’ at his final concert in September 2017

An outpouring of grief followed Petty’s death, as well as misc musical tributes. Petty’s sudden death surprised his Heartbreakers bandmates, who issued a statement statement in November 2017 noted that the support from fans had been of immense help to them while they were grieving.

“You’ve been a great source of comfort,” keyboardist Benmont Tench said. “This band and the extended family Tom gathered around him is a strong and loving group of people and we are all very close and all lean on each other. Love will definitely see us all through this.”

Despite the fact that Petty did some advance planning, a complicated situation regarding his estate eventually arose between his widow and two daughters from a previous marriage. Dana had been named sole trustee, while his daughters were given “equal participation” in decisions. However, the exact parameters of what this term meant were not clarified.

Several legal battles took place between the two parties, including one $5 million lawsuit filed by Petty’s daughters, Adria and Annakim, against their stepmother. “Dana will not allow destructive nonsense like this to distract her from protecting her husband’s legacy,” her attorney said in a statement.

ONE settlement agreement was not reached until 2019. Meanwhile, explorations of Petty’s archives began to reveal buried treasure, to borrow the title Petty’s SiriusXM radio program.

American treasure arrived in 2018 with the help of Petty’s family, his former bandmates and producer/engineer Ryan Ulyate. An impressive box set of rare and unreleased songs, the set consisted mainly of Heartbreakers material, with some solo work, as well as songs recorded by Petty’s first band, Mudcrutch.

The best of everythinga smaller collection of material, followed in 2019 with the particularly poignant “For Real.” Petty went autobiographical in this previously unreleased track, delving into his own career: “Would have done it for free / I did it for me / ‘Cause it was all that rang true / I did it for real / And I did it for you.”

Listen to Tom Petty’s ‘For Real’

Petty had long teased the idea of expanding Wild flowers, the acclaimed 1994 solo project that he originally envisioned as a double album. He hoped to climb one accompanying tour, as well. “I want to go out there and perform the whole album as it was originally intended with all the songs,” Petty said in 2016.

Wild flowers and the rest finally arrived in October 2020, with scrapped songs, early demos and live recordings. This expanded set was paired with an accompanying film, Somewhere You Feel Free: The Making of Wildflowers. The Mary Wharton-directed documentary featured never-before-seen footage from Wild flowers sessions, along with new interviews with the original producer Rick Rubin and other members of the Heartbreakers.

An elaborate posthumous 70th birthday party was also thrown for Petty in 2020. Held virtually due to the pandemic, the event included a variety of musicians — some of whom had worked with Petty in person and others who have appreciated his music from afar

There was more to come. Angel Dream (Songs and music from the movie She’s the One) arrived in 2021 as part of Record store daywith even more material recorded during Wild flowers era.

Another cornerstone of Petty’s career is revisited next: His famous stint at Fillmore in 1997, which featured a menagerie of cover songs and guest appearances. This 20-night run, widely regarded as one of Petty’s most impressive live offerings, gets its own box-set treatment with November 2022’s Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Live at the Fillmore, 1997. “It was one of the biggest parts of our career,” guitarist Mike Campbell told UCR in 2022. “We were relieved not to have to play the hits every night.”

The rest of the Heartbreakers found the idea of ​​getting out of the way as unthinkable as Petty did. All six members of the group performed live in some capacity in the years immediately following his death.

Listen to Mike Campbell and the Dirty Knobs’ ‘Wreckless Abandon’

Campbell launched a new band called the Dirty Knobs, with a group of musicians he had started playing with casually when he wasn’t on the road with the Heartbreakers. They have released two albums, the 2020s Wreckless Abandon and the 2022s External combustion. Stepping into the role of frontman has given Campbell a new challenge, and he’s actually enjoyed starting over with an unfamiliar group.

“We would play these relatively small places and we wouldn’t have any hits,” he told UCR. “We wanted to try to win them over in the moment. Here’s a song you’ve never heard before, but hopefully we’ll do it well enough that you’ll follow us. This band is very spontaneous.”

Tench has played various solo shows and hit the road in 2022 with another character from Heartbreakers history, Stevie Nicks. Tench has also kept busy with studio work and contributing to Margo Prices This is how rumors start, Chris Stapleton‘s Start over, Bob Dylan‘s Rough and rowdy waysthat WHO‘s WHO LP and two Ringo Starr recordings, What is my name and Zoom in.

Steve Ferrone continued to work as a session drummer, and was seen out in 2022 with John Mayer. Both Ron Blair and Scott Thurston have also taken the stage on occasion: Thurston notably featured Eddie Vedder in 2018 for one Ohana Fest performance of “Wildflowers”. Even drummer Stan Lynch, who left the Heartbreakers in 1994, came back into the picture for a moment when he sat on drums for more Dirty Knobs concerts in 2022. He also has a new band of his own, the Speaker Wars.

The past five years have not always been easy for Petty’s family and the surviving members of the Heartbreakers, but by revisiting Petty’s archives and collaborating with friends, they have found new ways to honor his legacy through art and song. As Campbell put it in 2022: “That’s where the fun is.”

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